WASHINGTON - In two weeks, millions of people will travel to Washington DC to witness the historic inauguration. While many are shelling out big bucks for transportation and housing, a few will be getting it all for free.
Meet 'The Dream Maker'
He may be "Pop Pop" to his grandkids, but these days many are coming to know Earl Stafford as a "dream maker."
He simply says he's reacting to what God put in his heart to do.
"Things are happening. Doors are opening. This is what God wants done for the people," Stafford said.
What Stafford is doing is almost unbelievable. He's throwing one of the biggest parties in Washington to coincide with the swearing in of President-elect Barack Obama.
People's Inaugural Ball
It's called the People's Inaugural Ball and it's being held here at the prestigious J.W. Marriott in downtown DC. With the million dollar price tag, you'd think the guest list would only name the rich and famous - but not so. About a third of the invitations are reserved for the most unlikely guests.
"The focus is on those who are hurting, the hungry, the naked, the homeless," Stafford explained. "This is on those who have sicknesses and illnesses. This is on those who are disenfranchised and downtrodden and hopeless in life."
For two days, victims from Hurricane Katrina to wounded veterans returning from Iraq will be treated like royalty - with food, complimentary rooms, and even gowns and tuxes for the ball.
A Good Deed Which Hasn't Gone Unnoticed
Stafford - a successful businessman and retired air force officer - has been making headlines with his compassion - which he says is born out of his faith and humble past.
"We have a very meager background - a family of 12 and I remember my mother sending a pot of soup or something down the street even when we didn't have a lot," Stafford recalled. "If I'm to be a follower of Christ, I have to do what he would do. I have to strive to be more like what he would want to do."
A Matter of Obedience
Stafford brushes aside critics who say he could put the money to better use.
"I'm going to do what God has blessed me with and what he tells me to do," Stafford said. "In the world's view it may be better to spend a couple of dollars at the homeless shelter, but the Lord told me to do this and I'm going to do it."
And for those who believe his good will gesture is tied to Obama, Stafford says he had the idea last March and put down a deposit on a hotel suite back in June.
His family is excited about bringing the rich and poor together to learn from one another.
"We want to inspire those who feel they have been downtrodden," he said. "To let them know there are people who care. We want people to see God through this - for lives and souls to be changed."
They say the real work begins when the celebration ends - with counseling, life skills training and teaching others to remember their neighbor.